Hasty Tastes: Belgian Candi Sugar

Let’s talk about brewing again.

Come on-I’ve been so good lately, giving little kitchen tips and fun ways to spice up different cuts of pork.  I’ve done some baked goods and waffles, cured some meats… it’s time to talk beer, but we’ll keep it classy by discussing Belgian styles that you can totally buy in decorative bombers and act all snobby whilst pouring.

Once more, here's your glorious Candi Sugar going into that hopefully delicious Belgian Golden.

Once more, here’s your glorious Candi Sugar going into that hopefully delicious Belgian Golden.

You may recall that a particular ingredient in the Belgian Golden we discussed yesterday was Belgian Candi Sugar.  Candi Sugar is essentially rock candy, Belgian style, yet it has a little bit more depth.  It typically adds a nice bit of flavor to your beer through caramelization, which you can approach at varying degrees.  The most caramelized sugars exhibit notes of toffee and molasses, which obviously go well with darker Quadrupels and Dubbels.   The lighter caramelized sugars taste a bit more like cotton candy, and somewhere in the middle you approach buttery, traditional caramel flavor.

Here’s the thing-while Belgian Candi Sugar adds a great amount of depth, some fermentable sugar, and a smattering of class to your beer, it’s also inhibitively expensive.  A pound of Belgian Candi Sugar will run you 5-8 bucks a POUND at the brew store, whereas you can get five pounds of high quality cane sugar and a bit of tartaric acid at the grocery store for less than five dollars.  If you do the math, that’s a savings of one 3D movie ticket and a small ICEE at your local movie theatre for five pounds of Candi Sugar.  Go see Avengers.

Okay.  Let’s go for a bit of technical terminology about working with sugar before we move forward.  First things first, a Candy Thermometer will make your life easier when working with tons of candy products, not just Belgian Candi sugar.  Essentially, the more you heat sugar the different properties it takes.  Your candy thermometer will have different labels like “thread” where the sugar will begin to thread and spindle out like cotton candy.  Then it turns to soft ball and firm ball, indicating it will solidify slightly and even more slightly into a soft-but-solid structure, like a caramel.  Next up you have soft crack and hard crack, which are indicative of a candy apple.  You reach these different points when your sugar gets hotter and hotter.

This candy thermometer has gone through a lot in my kitchen because homemade caramels are AMAZING.  Particularly with a bit of crumbled sea salt on top.

This candy thermometer has gone through a lot in my kitchen because homemade caramels are AMAZING. Particularly with a bit of crumbled sea salt on top.

If you can’t afford an awesome Candy Thermometer, you can pick up one of those awesome probe thermometers attached to a flexible wire and connected to a liquid crystal display.  They won’t be quite as accurate as a candy thermometer, but they will get the job done and they are about seven bucks at IKEA.  You may need to skip the ICEE at that point.

Beyond these little bits of equipment, you’ll just need a Pyrex baking dish lined with either aluminum foil or preferably parchment paper for your sugar to cool.  A kitchen mallet or an industrial hammer will be helpful to crack your cooled concoction once we’re through making it and cooling it to a solid state.  Without further ado, the recipe PER POUND of Belgian Candi Sugar.

1 lb of white cane sugar
½ cup of water
1/8 tsp Cream of Tartar (Tartaric Acid)

That is literally ALL you need.  Start by adding the water and sugar to a pan and mixing them together to forma  paste of sorts.  Try not to splash too much or the sugar on the side of the pot will mess with your mixture and cause premature crystallization, which won’t make your sexy sugar popular with anyone.  Alternately, if you have a pastry brush dipped in a little bit of water, you can go around the sides of the pan after your mixture is mixtured and clean up any residual splashes.

Now, you want to heat your sugar SLOWLY to around 260-270 degrees.  Air on the low end of that temperature range if you’re at high altitude as this thing will caramelize quickly and you’ll lose water faster than at sea level.  If you’re a mile up, you’ll want to keep it pretty consistently at 260, as sugars  behave erratically at high altitudes. Our end goal is to make a fully inverted sugar syrup (one where all the water has evaporated).  While it is heating up, add your cream of tartar and wait.

Keep a steady eye on the thermometer, as if this jumps to 275-280 you may be dealing with premature caramelization, which is almost as bad as premature crystallization.  Cook your syrup for 15-20 minutes, and all the water should be evaporated.

Look at that beautiful shade!  I hope the beer comes out that pretty.

Look at that beautiful shade! I hope the beer comes out that pretty.

After you hit that twenty-minute mark, the customization starts.  Here’s where your homemade Belgian Candi Sugar will really shine, because you can make it into whatever shade you want!  You are no longer a slave to the three different types available at Brew Stores, being clear, amber, or dark.  You can even make a GOLDEN candi sugar, which will go great in a Belgian GOLDEN ale.  See what I did there? Keep your temperature steady until your candi syrup reaches the desired shade.

Now you can actually turn it into Candy by pushing it to the hard crack temperature.  Kick up the heat of your syrup until it reaches just past 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once it’s that hot, kill the heat and pour your syrup into your lined Pyrex dish.  Let it sit for about an hour or two until it’s hardened, then turn it out onto a cutting board and smash the crap out of it.  These little shards of sugar will totally liven up your beer.  I’m sure there are other culinary uses for these guys, but if you aren’t using them right away, you should probably store them in a Ziploc bag with a bit of powdered sugar to keep the shards from sticking together.  Viola, you have made Candi Sugar. Best of luck, Doers and Brewers.

And here you have little shards of sweet, golden beauty.

And here you have little shards of sweet, golden beauty.

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